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Trump to Sign Order on Immigration; Trump Flips on Immigration Stance; Obama Weighs in on Immigration; Children Held in Shelters; Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired June 20, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:17] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
We begin with breaking news.
After days of finger pointing and false claims, President Trump caves to pressure and promises to end family separations at the border with Mexico. The president says he will sign, in his word, something soon to improve border security and help keep families together.
Listen to what the president said just a few moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are very strong at the border. We're very strong on security. We want security for our country. The Republicans want security, and insist on security for our country. And we will have that.
At the same time, we have compassion. We want to keep families together. It's very important. I'll be signing something in a little while that's going to do that. And the people in this room want to do that. And they're working on various piecing of legislation to get it done.
But I'll be doing something that's somewhat preemptive, but ultimately will be matched by legislation, I'm sure.
We're having a lot of problems with Democrats. They don't want to vote for anything. They don't care about lack of security. They really would like to have open borders where anybody in the world can just flow in, including from the Middle East, from anybody, anywhere, they can just flow into our country.
Tremendous problems with that. Tremendous crime caused by that. We're just not going to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: But day after day, the president and his top aides insisted his hands were tied. They repeatedly said only Congress could end the crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't do it through an executive order.
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Until these loopholes are closed by Congress, it is not possible by a matter of law to detain and remove whole family units who arrive illegally in the United States. Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can fix it.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's Congress' job to change the law. We're calling on them to do exactly that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our White House correspondent Abby Phillip is joining us right now.
Abby, so what's behind the president's sudden reversal after days and days of saying only Congress could take action? He couldn't sign an executive action to keep families together as they come into the United States. What role did the first lady play? What are you hearing behind the scenes?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf, the president is now soon to do something that he said just days ago he could not do. He is essentially reversing himself on this issue, saying that he is going to keep families together in some form and not separate them at the border, as his administration has done with some 2,000 children.
But the president is doing it in part, and he acknowledged this today, because those images that we've been seeing all week, children kept in what amounts to cages in these facilities, in tent cities down at the border, wailing children on audiotapes, those images and sounds have become a huge political problem, not just for the White House, but also for the president.
You know, our sources are telling us that over the last couple of days there's been a lot of discussion about this, and what could be a way forward, and there was a view inside the White House that this was not sustainable. The president didn't like the idea of giving up this issue, of being seen as weak. So what they've decided to do is that he's going to sign some kind of executive order, some kind of document, that authorizes his administration to do something that pretty much everybody agrees he could simply do with a phone call.
And according to our sources also, the first lady, Melania Trump, has been -- has been urging her husband to end this practice. Now, Melania put out a statement, a really rare statement for a first lady, essentially saying that she hoped that this -- that this practice would end. And that has led to where we are today.
Melania Trump -- yesterday we heard a little bit more from Ivanka Trump about her views on this. Everybody being forced to answer for this practice that had caused outrage, not just in the United States, but around the world. There was a view perhaps that this could be leverage in getting other immigration priorities through the Congress. But a source told me this week that that leverage had already been lost. These images were so bad for this White House that they needed to find a way out and a way out quickly, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he was under pressure to do exactly what he just announced he was going to do, end it, stop separating these young kids from their moms and dads at the border.
Abby, as soon as you get the exact wording on that executive order that the president is getting ready to sign, we'll be anxious, very anxious to know the details.
Do you know if camera crews, reporters will be allowed to witness the signing of this executive order?
[13:05:03] PHILLIP: We don't know, Wolf. And there's nothing on the president's schedule about that. The president is supposed to leave in just a few hours to go to Minnesota. He already has lawmakers coming to the White House to whip more votes on some other immigration bills that they're considering. So the schedule is pretty full.
But I will also note that today's meeting earlier today was also not supposed to be open to reporters and it was. The president spoke for a lengthy period of time. Clearly they want to reset the narrative on this story. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw cameras in there.
BLITZER: All right, let us know what's going on and let us know when you get the text of that new document the president's about to sign.
Abby Phillip at the White House for us, thank you very much.
The president clearly caved on this one and promised to end the family separation crisis in spite of support from his base and some hardline supporters out there. His vow to crack down on illegal immigration was, of course, a red meat issue during the presidential campaign. Here's what some Trump supporters told CNN about the practice of separating children from their parents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARL BIER, TRUMP VOTER: These people that we have coming across the border illegally are breaking the rules.
SONYA COPPA, TRUMP VOTER: You just can't come into this states and reap, you know what I'm saying, like, I -- I don't know -- I don't know how to explain.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You think that people are living off of the state but not doing it legally?
COPPA: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think it's (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
MADELINE CARROLL, TRUMP VOTER: Quit trying to make us feel teary-eyed with the children. Yes, I love children a great deal. But, to me, it's up to the parents to do things rightfully and legally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, let's get some insight from our panel. We have CNN Espanol correspondent Ione Molinares with us, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor and columnist for RealClearPolitics, and CNN's senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson.
So why do you think, Nia, the president blinked?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I think it was basically a gathering storm against this policy. People like Pope Francis, people like Ted Cruz, evangelicals, who, of course, are the base for Donald Trump, and a really important base, coming out very critical against this policy.
A couple of other things. The idea that there are tender age facilities around the country where kids who are younger than five have been separated from their parents, are in some cases in different states. In New York there are apparently tender age facilities. So images, I think the sounds from these facilities where these kids are crying out for their parents, all of that I think went to show this White House that this was unsustainable.
And their rhetoric on it was unsustainable too because it was always untrue, this idea that it was up to Congress and the president's hands were tied, that was always untrue from the very beginning. And the idea that they were going to use these small kids as leverage in a process that wasn't unlikely to happen, right? Congress wasn't all of a sudden going to get its act together after 10 or 15 years of wrangling with immigration and all of a sudden be able to get something to address this problem.
BLITZER: The president does not like to show weakness, as you know, A.B. And I want to play for our viewers right now what he just said about weakness.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
if you're weak, if you're weak, which some people would like you to be, if you're really, really pathetically weak, the country is going to be overrun with millions of people. And if you're strong, then you don't have any heart. That's a tough dilemma. Perhaps I'd rather --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But he did back down on this one. He doesn't like to do it, doesn't often do it, but he was put in a very, very tough position.
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: That's right, Wolf. A few Trump controversies that people think are going to push him over the edge create an actual furor like this. This is something that we haven't seen before.
And Nia's right, I mean the idea of -- leaders on the global stage, the pope, his own party, the Catholic bishop, evangelicals, everyone coming out and saying this is untenable. He thought that he could sort of make it through, but it was clear for members of Congress coming out today saying, we're going to solve this tomorrow, that they are running out of actual hours. Tomorrow would be the test. And then when both bills failed in the House, they'd have to go to the stand alone paragraph bill, which would be an act of defiance against the president.
And so it really -- they said it would be better if you found a way to sort of do this yourself, and that's why they've made it -- they did -- the reset is the right word that Abby used. You saw these senators around him talking about how this was so complicated and he was put in a bad corner and it's really hard because of the Flores ruling, and they were trying to sort of smooth the debate and make it seem as if all along he was in, you know, a real bind, when we know that he wasn't. But this was his way of getting out of it. I think a lot of pressure from, again, bipartisan, but from his own family, really everyone said, you know, you've got to make this end.
BLITZER: And the president was really getting severely criticized, Ione, from the pope, from the British Prime Minister Theresa May, from the Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau. A lot of people around the world were watching and they really couldn't believe what was going on here in the United States. I'm anxious to get your reaction to what we just heard from the president.
[13:10:10] IONE MOLINARES, CNN EN ESPANOL CORRESPONDENT: The whole Central America is also reacting very badly. Mexico saying that this is inhumane and cruel. There's different sides and factors of this whole situation. And then you have the fact that you have a very strong, knowledgeable smuggling network. They know how to break -- they know how to get through every single loophole and every legislation available that comes through immigration. They can tell you right away, don't worry, you can use this, you can do the other, you can bring your -- you can come with the kids. That's one part.
The other part of this situation in the country, which is making it really, really hard for a lot of people to live in those countries in Central America specifically. And they are moving out of the country out of fear of being killed by MS-13 and all this other criminal organizations. And the actual economical situation is really, really bad.
The other one is the political part, which is, of course, what are you doing in a country in Central America to campaign those people from leaving? That's -- all of those is just a really, really bad (INAUDIBLE). And if you add up the president changing or modifying the rules to try to put pressure on the countries and on Congress to do something, it isn't working out. They just a big pot that is moving around and it's not going anywhere. The countries in Central America really have said -- the Guatemalan
government is actually saying this is going to create a very bad impact in those kids, in the social part creates also in all other situations. It's really bad.
BLITZER: It certainly will. And the devil is in the details. We're going to see what this executive order, Nia, actually includes. The president says he's going to sign an executive order and it will end this current crisis. And then he says he wants Congress to include his executive order in comprehensive immigration reform. They're working hard in the House of Representatives to get something passed, but there's no guarantee it's going to pass. And certainly if it passes in the House, no guarantee it will pass in the Senate.
HENDERSON: Yes, I mean this is deja vu all over again and again and again. I mean we've seen this very scenario before without these disturbing images of these kids. The idea that those disturbing would pass something along, but very unlikely. I mean there are two bills that could come out of the House. And not even clear that those bills have enough votes. One's more conservative. One's more moderate. And then in the Senate, they're not even necessarily working on any sort of comprehensive approach to this. They're working on sort of standalone stuff.
But we really saw this three or four months ago with trying to get a fix to DACA and they couldn't get anything done. So I think we're on a path to see what we've already seen before.
BLITZER: Yes, just moments ago, the former president, President Obama, posted on FaceBook this. Let me read part of his statement to you. That's the reality for so many of the families whose plights we see and heart-rending cries we hear. And to watch those families broken apart in real time puts to us a very simple question, are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parent's arms, or are we a nation that values families and works to keep them together? Do we look away or do we choose to see something of ourselves and our children?
A very strong statement. That's only part, A.B., of what the former president said.
STODDARD: Well, it's interesting that he's weighing in right now, because, you know, he's sort of the last in line. But it's -- I think he felt that he had to, and he's probably being urged by many, many people to do so. I still think that Nia's right, I mean they're not going to get the bills across the finishing line, but this is going to be an issue that President Trump talks about tonight in Minnesota, continues to talk about. You heard in those comments, he thinks this was an act of weakness. He felt he had to do it, but he wants to appear strong and he's going to hammer that message home. He believes it's going to galvanize his voters in the midterms to vote for Republicans. It's obviously going to energize voters on the other side as well. But this might end up being really the defining issue of the midterm election. Not the Russia investigation. Not the economy. Not health care premiums rising, but immigration.
BLITZER: All right.
MOLINARES: The Democrats say they have the leverage on that too.
BLITZER: Well, let's see what happens. Let's see what the executive order contains. Let's see what he says tonight. Clearly the president is frustrated that one of his major promises to build that wall, that Mexico would pay for the wall, that certainly has not occurred, at least not yet. No sign it's about to occur.
Guys, thank you very, very much.
Let's get to the border right now. CNN's Nick Valencia is at the so- called tender age facility in Brownsville, Texas. It's one of three main shelters where infants and children are being held away from their parents.
Nick, tell us whatever you can about this shelter, how many kids are there, their age range, and anything else you can, because I know there have been some severe restrictions in journalistic access to that facility.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In fact, Wolf, we tried to gain access into this very facility on Monday and were denied. We're trying to get back in today. Still waiting on whether or not we're going to be allowed in.
[13:15:09] But this is one of the facilities, the tender age facilities, as they're called, owned and operated by Southwest Key. They own and operate two of the three tender age facilities. And they define tender age as being ten years and younger. And what that means here is that they have infants, at least four infants inside, according to a Democratic congressman, Filemon Vela, who got a tour inside. And while we were denied access, he was allowed on a tour. I spoke to him about what he saw.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. FILEMON VELA (D), TEXAS: There are 80 children at this facility. It's a former hospital. And these children are being well taken care of. It's not an ideal situation because they are not with their parents. But in this facility are children under the age of 10, with a few exceptions. Some mothers who are teenagers who have born children.
But they're -- in one room there are four infants, under the age of one. Two with their teenage parents and two who were alone. One who was separated from her sister. Their mother had died at some point in the process. And the other, whom we were told, was separated from her mother.
Like I said, it's not ideal because these children are not with their mothers. But under the circumstances, the children that I saw in there, the two with the parents were with their mothers. The other two were being attended to by Southwest Keys' employees. They were both being fed at the -- at the point that I saw them. So there is constant attention, and the people that are working in here are doing what they can under the circumstances. (END VIDEO CLIP)
VALENCIA: And like everyone else, Congressman Vela was watching the announcement from President Trump about this upcoming executive order. I asked his staff if they have any idea what that's physically going to look like here on the ground at these facilities, where these child migrants have been separated from their parents. They've been yet to get any details on that, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, if they have nothing to hide, Nick, why won't they let journalists, reporters, go in there and -- with their camera crews and talk to people, film what's going on, and let the world see?
VALENCIA: What we've experienced is just a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of red tape. As I mentioned, this facility is run by Southwest Border Key, which is a non-profit. A very profitable non-profit, we should mention. The CEO made around $770,000 last year we're told according to paperwork.
But they're saying essentially that we need to call a different office. That they work hand in hand with the federal government. They've given me a number to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. In fact, right before this live shot, I heard back from Southwest Key and they referred me to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. That's our next call as soon as we're done with this report.
BLITZER: All right, let us know if they do let you in and show the world what's going on inside.
Nick Valencia, appreciate it very much.
The global backlash is clearly spreading as the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the British Prime Minister Theresa May and the pope, they are blasting the president of the United States right now, as so many other world leaders are doing. You're going to hear their criticism.
Plus, President Trump getting moans from Republicans during their meeting after he attacked one of their own. I'll speak live to one Republican congressman who was in the room during that meeting up on Capitol Hill last night.
And is Michael Cohen, the president's long-time personal lawyer and fixer, preparing to flip? His friends say he's ready to give information on the president.
Stay with us. We'll be right back.
[13:22:56] BLITZER: President Trump says he'll sign an executive order today in the coming few hours, he says, an order he's calling a pre- emptive measure on immigration.
Joining us now, Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman. He's a Republican. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
Let's get to this sensitive issue. I know where you stand. The president, in recent days, has been very defiant, blaming the Democrats for the controversial family separations going on at the board with Mexico, saying there was nothing he could do about it. He couldn't sign an executive order. Only Congress could take action. The secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielson, said exactly the same thing. But now he has reversed himself. He's about to sign an executive order, presumably, we'll wait to see the details, that will stop this separation. Your reaction?
REP. MIKE COFFMAN, (R), COLORADO: Well, I wish the president would have come to Congress before they implemented this particular policy. Zero tolerance in terms of prosecuting everybody crossing the border illegally. And then in accordance with current law, separating the children from the parents. I'd be interested to see -- he said that he couldn't do it on his own and now he's going to apparently do it on his own in anticipation of Congress acting on this. What legal theory he comes up with.
But the fact is, that this is such an insensitive policy in the way it's carried out. Certainly we want to stop illegal immigration. But to separate these children from their parents. And it's hard for us to comprehend how significant this is. I think people get it at an emotional level. But to -- you have to go one step further and understand there is no social safety net in these countries where these families are coming from, and they are totally dependent upon each other, interdependent in terms of their day-to-day survival. And so it is -- it's just so gut-wrenching to see these pictures of these children being torn away from their parents. And we -- this is not what we're about as a nation.
BLITZER: Yes, it's certainly heartbreaking.
[13:25:01] You were at that meeting with congressional Republicans last night with the president.
BLITZER: We got the impression, based on what folks were telling us, that the president said there's nothing that he could do. He wasn't going to make any major change until Congress passed comprehensive immigration reform, the separation of families would continue. But all of a sudden, just within the past hour, he seems to have changed his mind.
What was your impression that you got directly from the president? You were at that meeting last night.
COFFMAN: Well, the president certainly acknowledged that it was a bad policy in terms of how the American people were perceiving it. He said that he had no choice but to do it. And he wanted a legislative fix to it. And so I think he's now going to do some sort of executive action in anticipation of legislation passing. Whether we do it as a standalone bill or part of a more comprehensive
package, I think it just has to get done by the Congress. And the president needs to provide relief for these families as soon as possible.
BLITZER: I know you welcome his decision, but do you believe he blinked?
COFFMAN: Oh, there's -- I think in terms -- absolutely he blinked. I mean the fact is, he said he did not have legal authority to do it -- this, and now he does. So what legal authority is he using? Is he using prosecutorial discretion in that he's simply not going to prosecute -- hold these parenting accountable for crossing the border illegally, as he said he would under his zero tolerance policy? So I think we're going to have to wait and see.
But clearly it's a reversal. But I'm glad to see it. By whatever measure it happened, I'm just glad that it -- let's just move along as a country.
COFFMAN: It was just -- it's a very sad chapter, I think, in just our nation as one who cares about human rights.
BLITZER: Yes. And, you know, irrespective of his decision, if it stops kids from being separated from their mothers and fathers at the border, that's going to be welcome news to so many people here in the United States and around the world.
BLITZER: And he also says this executive order he's about to sign, he hopes it will be backed up by specific legislation.
BLITZER: You've said you're ready to work with, for example, Senator Dianne Feinstein's bill --
BLITZER: To end this practice of separating families at the border. Where does this stand in terms of standalone legislation in the House of Representatives, or as part of comprehensive immigration reform?
COFFMAN: Well, there's going to be a vote tomorrow on a bill that addresses border security, it addresses a path to citizenship, an earned path to citizenship for the young people in the DACA program. And it will also address this issue. But if it's not going to be taken up in the Senate, I hope that it is. I hope they do something about our young people in DACA, and I hope they do something about border security and a few other issues.
But, if not, we just have to get this done, whether it's in a standalone bill or it's part of a larger bill. BLITZER: Congressman Coffman, thanks so much for joining us.
COFFMAN: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: All right, there's more news we're following.
Heckled at a Mexican restaurant here in Washington, D.C. Protesters outraged over family separations. They confront the secretary of Homeland Security, who was actually having dinner at that restaurant.
Plus, ready to talk. The president's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, apparently telling friends he's ready to give up information on the president.